Khorol | Mongolia

Name in Original Language


Area Where Played



To trace back to the origin of the game, the “Khorol” game was recreated during the Manchurian rule in Mongolia, to counteract against the wide spread Chinese domino game and gambling. The ancient game Annum, which is related to the zodiac, was recreated by adding higher level game pieces such as the “Khorol,” “Chandmani,” “Norov” and “Ulzii,” which all bear symbolic meanings. Additionally, the domino game which was created by Mongolia’s southern neighbors had its pieces made mostly out of bone, but Mongolians believed that holding the bone and playing with “whitened bone” was a sign of bad omen and the loss of wealth.
This game is played with sixty wooden pieces and zodiac animals, such as the mice, tiger, hare etc., are symbolically represented, to denote the cycle of 60 happiest lunar years. “Khorol” game pieces are categorized into two different levels- the highest ‘hand or wealth pieces’ and lowest ‘land or spare pieces.’ The names of hand pieces vary, whereas the names of land pieces had not been changed. Hand pieces have many different names such as khorlo, ongi, nevs, garid, tiger, khas, norov, ulzii etc. and it could be assumed that names such as ongi, khas and nevs were drawn from the ancient game of Annum.

Detailed Description

Attached to Mongolian games are strong symbolic meanings that represent the unique tradition of Mongolian culture. Mongolian games were composed of mostly behavioral or customary features, and even to this today, this feature has not been completely lost, for it may be observed or reconstructed. Mongolian games are meant to entertain, and have the features of healing, magical spells or worship. Games that are played during the first day of the Lunar New Year or the first month of Spring, such as “Uichuur,” “Colorful Turtle,” “Four Difficulty,” “Khorol” or “Wheel of Time,” are closely related to the symbolic celebration of the White Month, or the beginning of the Spring and New Year. “Colorful Turtle” could be played on the last day of the year whereas “Four Difficulty”, “Uichuur” and “Khorol” games are traditionally played on the first day of the New Year.

    It is believed that the winner of a well-wishing game, played on the first greeting day of the New Year, will have a happy, spirited and prosperous year ahead. If the game end in a draw, then it is considered that some barriers are there; therefore, the players have to play again to break the draw and eliminate the barrier that hinders the winning luck and spirit. Playing “Khorol” on the first day of the New Year has dual significance- on the one hand, it symbolically foretells the overall spirit and luck of the year; on the other hand, it heals or eliminates potential misfortunes or barriers.  The practice of playing “Khorol” on the first day of the New Year is observed at Galt, Shine-Ider, Jargalant soums of Khuvsgul province, Mongolia.

    In essence, ttiquettes are mostly congregation of symbolic meanings, and the Khorol game is characterized by its unique abundance of etiquette and symbolisms. The Khorol game is undoubtedly the revolutionized version of the ancient game and had been named differently among Mongolian ethnic groups, such as the “Khorol or Wheel of Time”, “Amarbayasgalant or Peaceful Joy”, “Chandmani or Jewel”, “Zendmene or Precious” and “Ulzii or Eternal” etc.

    On the one hand, “Khorol” is symbolized by its 60 wooden game pieces (one Jaran or cycle of 60 years), and on the other hand, it has spatial and symbolic meaning by erecting its own dwelling during the game. However, no clear and concrete information was available to be obtained on the game called Annum, an earlier version of the “Khorol” game, but it used to be played again with sixty pieces, and there were three hand pieces as oppose to four hand pieces existing now in “Khorol,” and it is supposed that ongi, khas and nevs were the names used to these pieces.

    Ongi is the ancient image of a sun used in animal branding by Mongolians, whereas Khas or Motion wheel symbolizes eternal motion of the universe [S.Dulam III, 2007, 61]. Nevs represents the large bird believed to be the king of all birds and possibly, is the Mongolian name of the Garuda bird of Vishnu Sky depicted in ancient Indian legend.  Currently, four symbolic hand pieces are there in “Khorol” game including khorol/ongi, chandmani/zendmene, norov, khas/ulzii/, nevs/garid, tiger, and land pieces include twelve zodiac animals such as mice, cow, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, hen, dog and pig. Scholars believe that naming of 12 zodiac animals originated during the Khunnu period and were later taken up by the Chinese Khan state and spread further into other Asian countries such as Japan, Vietnam, and Korea.

    The time and procedures for which to play “Khorol” is quite stringent. The “Khorol” game was not played during the season when sky was rammed by thunders. It is believed that the best time of to play this game was when the sky is quiet and the rivers are covered with ice. The game is played for the last time during early Spring and is not played until next Autumn sets in.

    Related to the pieces of the “Khorol” game 60 (16+44), there are total of 16 pieces of four hand pieces (4 each) decorated with symbolic images and patterns, and except from mice and tigers (only one of each animal of mice and tiger), there are four pieces each for 10 zodiac animals, which gives total of 44 pieces. However, in the traditional game of Annum 60 (12+48), three types of hand pieces 4 each gives total of 12 pieces whereas, land pieces consist of four pieces each of 12 zodiac animals, all together 48 pieces.  For the procedures to play the game, hand pieces were higher in ranking compared to all land pieces, but among hand pieces, khorol was the highest in ranking, followed by chandmani, next khas and nevs ranked similarly. From the land pieces of 12 zodiac animals, mice was the highest followed by cow etc., in the exact same sequence of zodiac years or following the principle that ‘lead year comes first’. The concrete zodiac animal piece was only able to lead only a year to which it comes first. In other words, though mouse is the first year among zodiac animals it does not win over other animals except for cow which comes as a next year. In this similar fashion, mice comes over cow, cow comes over tiger, tiger over hare, hare over dragon, dragon over snake, snake over horse, horse over sheep, sheep over monkey, monkey over hen, hen over dog, dog over pig. But pig does not lead any of them. During the game this lead aspect is denoted through use of different words as mice ‘coming over’ cow, tiger ‘eats’ cow etc. by using words as ‘come over’ and ‘eat’.  Related with the rule of one zodiac animal coming over another one, expressions as ‘fixed year’, ‘caught year’ came into use. Fixed year means when player pairs of years that come in the right sequence, which is not likely to happen frequently, but sometimes it could happen that player have several same pieces. Among game pieces horses value very much. If any of player receives/takes 4 horses simultaneously, he/she can buy monkey – an owner/lord of horse from a player in the same team by “Khorol” and then he/she is allowed to take turn immediately with those five pieces at once. Especially, there is a rule ‘not to knot down the legs of a horse’ during the horse year celebrations, if player has three horses in his hand he can buy a fourth horse and a monkey – an owner/lord of horse and win the game by throwing these five pieces at once ahead of his own turn. Caught year refers to a situation when a piece thrown by a player could pair with the one thrown by the player who sits next to him in clockwise direction.


The game is played with 2-4 or 6 persons.  If there are only 2-3 players, then each player plays individually, whereas if 4 or 6 players are engaged then teams could be formed. A total of 60 pieces are piled into 12 piles with 5 pieces in each and placed in circular fashion. Before starting the game, the youngest player has to recite appraisal song of 12 years beginning with Year of Mice. Next players pick up their piles in clockwise direction. This action is called reversing the pile. At the beginning of the game, the eldest person says the words ‘Feast starts from the eldest and Games start from the youngest’, the youngest player engaged picks up the pile first. Youngest player who picks up the pile first has to show the lowest piece to others and starts counting by saying ‘Mice’ and players take turn in clockwise direction. But when a player says a year loud and his pile ends in the same year then he has to change his pile. For instance, if hare is picked up then he has to count four in clockwise direction and give that person his pile since hare is the fourth zodiac animal. And the person who has this pile shifted to him starts the game by taking the turn. There is no fixed rule regarding which piece to throw first, but a player has to try to begin with matching pair pieces symbolizing happiness of being in pair, and when player throws one piece he is reminded by a popular saying “Isn’t there a soul mate sealed with trust words”.

Each game has its own praise or descriptive recitals. The recital of the “Khorol” game is widely known as ‘12 Zodiac Year Praise’ which is believed by public as stand-alone praise song. This recital song has its local versions but the most widespread version among central khalkh people is below:

The first year is mice that spews jewel

The second year is the cow that has equal length of horn and tail and is valued by its owner

Colorful tiger is the third year that lives in northern colorful forest

Hare with sticking ears is the fourth year that jumps over the globe

Mighty Dragon is the fifth year that roars in blue sky

Spotty Snake that swirls into circle always is the sixth year

Snake is the owner of water and symbol of wealth

Strong hoofed horse that shortens distance is the seventh year

Sheep is the eight year that fills up with hollow space with his droppings but favored by his owner when fills up his backyard

Wise Monkey is the ninth year that makes fun of everything he sees

Dawn is awaken by white-chinned hen that is tenth year

Dog that barks away unwanted enemies is the eleventh year

Gold tusked boar that digs up earth in forest is the twelfth year [МАЕМ  1983, 53].

All players engaged in a game have to take turns in clockwise direction, and have to win over the piece thrown by higher ranking piece, and if a player does not have a higher ranking piece, he can throw lower ranking piece under it. By this fashion players have to erect piles or dwellings. For instance, if a player starts a game by throwing two sheep by reciting:

Sheep is the eight year that fills up with hollow space with his droppings but favored by his owner when fills up his backyard


And if the next fortunate player has a pair of horses, which win over the sheep, then he throws them over the sheep pieces by reciting:


Strong hoofed horse that shortens distance is the seventh year.

However, if the next player does not have snake he can still recite:

Spotty Snake that swirls into circle always is the sixth year

And asks for help from his team player by saying:

Has anyone seen this, if yes, I can reward you with the fox fur coat.

If team player says: Yes, I have, then the players take turns to provide a spare low ranking piece to his or her teammate allowing him to win over the piece, and if his or her teammate says: no, I have not, then player has to decide on his own whether to win over or continue with lower ranking piece. The game is won over by the team which has the most number of dwelling piles made as a result of good collaboration, and other team looses as a result of poor cooperation. But there is a chance for a player to win the game thanks to the wealth of good matching pair pieces he holds. The player who picks up the pile saying either ‘picked up and lucky’ or ‘picked up, no luck but will come back’ or ‘drawing or ending in draw’ to promote and continue with the game.


The praise recital known as ‘12 Year Praise Song’ used in the “Khorol” game which says ‘The first year is mice that spews jewel’[МАЕМ  1983, 53], “white mouthed mice year, value abundant cow year, mighty tiger year, muscle endowed hare year, mighty sounding dragon year, well and wise tongued snake year, most powerful horse year, sheep year full of memories, emotion filled monkey year, hen year telling the time, strong bodied dog year, power muscled pig year’ [МАЗҮАЗ 1987, 142-143] are the attributes of all 12 zodiac animals in sequence which in essence a praise and wish for the entire 12 year cycle based on specific attributes of the associated animal. All animals in “Khorol” game come in four pieces except mice which comes only in pair hence making difficult for a player to hold a pair of mice. And when during the New Year game when a player holds a pair of mice then he takes it as a good omen and believes that he will have a prosperous and abundant year ahead of him.